Discovering Physical Evidence of Biblical Daily Life – Part 3: The Widow’s Mite

The “Widow’s Mite”. The two small bronze coins mentioned in Luke 21:1-4 not only would have passed through the hands of the widow in the Temple mentioned by Jesus, but as a common coin, they would also have been commonplace throughout Israel in Jesus’ time. This coin is mentioned in the Greek text of the New Testament as a “Lepton” (λεπτόν) – Plural: Lepta. However, the Aramaic or Hebrew word used by the Jews was most probably the “Prutah”.

This coin would most likely have been low in value, for example worth the value of few vegetables or fruits in the marketplace whereas another coin mentioned in the Bible, a Denarius (plural: Denarii) was a working day’s wages, a silver Roman coin with the Emperor’s portrait on it (Luke 20:25) also mentioned in the parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16). The Lepton was the lowest denomination of coins, a long way from the value of the daily salary or Denarius coin.

These small bronze coins have been identified by scholars as the small coins of Alexander Jannaeus the Hasmonean king who ruled between 104/3-76 BC. His coins may have also been struck after his death in Judea (Jerusalem as a mint), or they may have been issued in such large quantities during his life that they continued to be in circulation among Jewish populations even years after his death and until the times of Jesus. This incredible fact is proved by Archeology: these coins are found in archeological layers dated to the first century AD, even though they were issued during the 1st century BC! The coin below with the “Star and Anchor” symbols is generally viewed by scholars and collectors as what we know to be the widow’s mite.

1. The Prutah/Lepton of Alexander Jannaeus with the Star and Anchor motives, the lowest denomination of bronze coins during Jesus’ time.

The widow’s mite could be any other small bronze coin used by Jewish population during the first century AD (photograph figure 2), even the Procurator coins who were struck by the Roman administration in Judea (Pontius Pilatus’s coins as an example). All these bronze coins that were struck in Jerusalem were without any human or animal motives or representation on it (aniconic). This is because of the Ten Commandments which prohibited the Jews to represent any image of animal or human being. This custom was respected especially during 1st century AD among Jews. Due to the fact that the average size of a Lepton/prutah with the Star/Anchor motive is almost less than half inch in diameter and because this coin is the smallest denomination most people agree that it is apparently the “widow’s mite.” When you hold such a coin, even if it is a small and worn coin with only half a symbol appearing on it, you know that this very cheap and popular coin was for sure in the hands of someone who heard about Jesus in his life time and maybe saw him! Who knows, maybe it is the one of the two Lepta of the widow.

2. (Agrippa I’s coins and Roman procurator coins from Judea – all 1st century AD, from Jesus, Paul & Disciples’ times)

Do you want to rediscover the Bible through the remains of first century AD daily artifacts and treasures? Wouldn’t you like to hold Biblical history in your own hands? Visit Israel with Sar-El Tours and uncover the ancient Biblical truths before you own eyes- whether on location or in one of Israel’s many museums. Bring the Bible to life! We can connect you with scholars and archaeologists who can share their knowledge about Biblical times, shedding light on the very items and places we read about in the Scriptures, it’s all right here! Jerusalem, The Galilee, Caesarea, Capernaum, what are you waiting for?!